Welcome to our SECCG double edition. Tomorrow we will cross-post RMN's Q&A with us. In the meanwhile, Manager Jack Peglow was kind enough to answer twice the questions I normally ask of forthcoming opponents, and give you a peek into the football psyche of the Missouri Tiger faithful. These are great guys, a great team, and great people. Give them a follow on the Twitters and pay them a visit at Rock M Nation.
Mizzou is a team that is keenly aware of what it is. Deep down inside, they know that they aren't capable of blowing anyone out, so that's not what they're going to try to do. They're going to play nasty, physical defense, limit their offensive mistakes, try to swing field position in their favor on special teams, and generally muck the game up enough to pull out a close, ugly win. The problem with just comparing the numbers straight up is that they're an accumulation of the entire season. Mizzou really didn't settle in on this identity until halfway through the Vanderbilt game. Since then, they've been much more efficient offensively, which has allowed the defense to perform better as well (crazy what having a drive to catch your breath can do for a unit). Mizzou may not be the most numerically impressive team to take the field, but the game plan that Gary Pinkel and company implement is going to do its very best to render that a moot point.
For the last available Football Outsiders data, Alabama ranked 1st in Defensive S&P, 3rd in Offensive S&P. That is not really unexpected for a team with that talent and a (then) 10-1 record. What is surprising is that Missouri ranked 66th and 23rd in those categories, respectively, yet still sits at a healthy 10-wins. What makes this Tigers team so successful, despite measurables to the contrary?
Wait, people *listen* to you? (Ed. Note: They do not.) Crazy. Any-who, the success that Mizzou has had with its defensive lineman is a product of both the coaching and the recruiting. Pinkel has looooong been preaching about the system that his staff uses to evaluate talent, and it's hard to argue with the results. But that's just the first step. Once these players are in the door, the coaches have to take these raw, athletics blocks of granite and sculpt them into a voluptuous work of art capable of shedding blocks and sacking quarterbacks. That's where Mizzou's Michelangelo – Defensive Line Coach Craig Kuligowski – comes into play. He's been churning out NFL-caliber talent for quite a while now, which is why I don't think you can label Missouri's wide-bodies "system" linemen. If guys like Aldon Smith and Sheldon Richardson – seventh and thirteenth overall picks, respectively – had left Mizzou's system and flunked out of the NFL, that label might have some merit, but they done just the opposite.
I've maintained, for as long as people will listen to #hot #takes, that the most underrated part of Pinkel's coaching game is his ability to mold nondescript LB-types into star defensive linemen. This year is no different (see Shane Ray and Markus Golden). It's not just pass rushers like those guys (or Michael Sam), it's also interior guys like Sheldon Richardson. Is this success a product of coaching, scouting, being in a more pass-friendly division, or -if such a thing exists- are these "system" linemen?
That's more than fair, it's pretty much spot on. Mauk's ceiling is incredibly high thanks to his ability to extend plays and hurt defenses with his feet, but you're right that he normally looks to pass before he runs. He's also improved a great deal as the season progressed, specifically after Mizzou flipped that switch I talked about earlier. Over the last four games, he's cut down on his critical mistakes and has looked much more in-sync with his receivers, who are finally getting back to full health. Against a defense as good as Alabama's, it's quite possible that Mauk regresses a bit and makes a few of the bone-headed plays that he was so prone to making earlier in the season. That can't happen if Mizzou wants to have any sort of upset chance.
I have a theory that Blake Sims and Maty Mauk are actually the same guy: versatile, mobile players who look to pass first; make maddening plays within games; but, players who generally are difference-makers when the game is on the line. Is that fair?
Jimmie Hunt is probably the easy answer here, being the team's second-leading receiver and all, but I'm fairly certain that most people are at least aware of his existence. If Alabama fans are looking for more of an unknown quantity to look out for, it has to be Darius White. White can stretch the defense with his speed, allowing the other receivers to put in some work underneath, and he can also swing the game in Mizzou's favor very suddenly if he hauls in a long pass.
Bud Sasser is obviously the man that the Alabama defense must shut down in the passing game. What receiver is 1A for Mauk, a receiver that most Alabama fans may not be aware of?
I inject them with the Captain America super soldier serum and hand each of them the ball 25 times. If that doesn't end up working, I would try to find ways to get them the ball in space. That probably means running more shotgun handoffs, screens, and swing passes than normal, but Mizzou's offensive line isn't good enough to consistently go head-to-head with Alabama's defensive line with success. Murphy and Hansbrough are both lethal with room to run, the key will be finding that room for them.
You're Missouri's offensive coordinator for the game. How do you use Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy?
I'm sticking to my strength: stopping the run. Only Indiana and Georgia were able to gain more that 200 yards rushing against the Tigers, and it took them 50 and 58 carries respectively. I'll be doing my very best to force Alabama into passing situations, and then make sure that those passes are long passes. It's a gamble, but I'm going to make the Tide run routes that take a bit of time to develop and see if my defensive line can hit Sims before he hits Amari Cooper. If I lose, Cooper has as much success as he probably would have if I sold out to stop him, but if I win, Mizzou *might* have a shot.
You're Missouri's defensive coordinator for the game. What one aspect of the Alabama offense do you try to stop and how?
Long story short: Mizzou was still trying to be something it wasn't. I talked about it earlier, but for the first half of this season, the Tigers thought it was still 2013 and they could still sling the ball around all willy-nilly. They learned later that they could not, in fact, do that if they wanted to win games. Another big factor was the absence of Markus Golden. I'm always hesitant to blame a loss completely on an injury, but the reason Indiana's offense was able to perform as well as it did was because they continuously ran to Golden's side of the defense. The final screen pass that set up the Hoosiers' game-winning score was completely almost exactly where Golden would've been had he played. That said, they won the game fair and square. The SEC East is theirs.
We have to talk about Indiana. What in the actual hell happened (aside from a Tevin'ing?)
It's all white-noise to me at this point. The "Does Mizzou belong?" argument is just the same old "Is Mizzou good?" argument that's been around since man first threw a football. The media and opposing fans love to ask it, and Tiger fans love to get all hot and bothered about it. It's a discussion that will long outlive you and I. When the human race has left this planet behind, and all records of our time on Earth are gone, our descendants will still ask themselves, "Is Mizzou really that good? Do they fit in?"
After 10 straight conference road wins, and back-to-back SEC-East titles, you're tired of hearing the "DOES MIZZOU BELONG?" crap aren't you?
Arkansas is our rival. We hate them. (this answer brought to you by Shelter Insurance) Honestly, there is something growing between the Tigers and the Hogs, but it'll take a few more close games with high stakes to really make something out of it. Beyond them, I think Mizzou has some decent beef with Tennessee. Rocky Top HATES that they haven't beat Mizzou in football yet, and the two fan-bases seem to find reasons to butt heads pretty easily. There's some lit kindling with South Carolina as well, thanks to last year's DOINK and this year's retribution. I'm still lobbying for that football game to be played for a Columbia jacket that's half gold and half garnet.
Related: Who, if anyone, does Missouri consider to be its rival at this point?
I'll say that Mizzou keeps it relatively close for the first half of the game, keeping the halftime score somewhere in the 14-7 or 14-14 range, and then Alabama pulls away. Mizzou's offense will probably have trouble staying on the field, and the defense will be gassed enough to make the final score look something like 35-14.
Finally, what is our final score, and how do we get there?